Calvinist and Egalitarian?: Theological Resources for the Young, Restless, and Reformed

In my discussions with many Reformed people, particularly as I listen to certain podcasts like Reformed Pubcast and others, I am struck by their adherence to complementarianism. Of course, this is not to say that one cannot be both Reformed and complementarian. Rather, it is to say that I find it odd that the default position among the YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) is complementarianism. That is, women and men are equal in dignity and worth before God, but have separate and distinct roles in the church and in the home. In my context at Fuller, where I've studied under Oliver Crisp and other Reformed theologians, this sort of default complementarianism seemed odd.

The purpose of this brief post is two-fold. First, I want to offer resources to challenge this seemingly common trend of interpretation, as many Reformed theologians are egalitarian and it seems John Piper (among others) has been given a bigger megaphone than others. Second, in a brief discussion with some YRR brothers on social media, I was struck by the lack of accumulated resources that could benefit people who were sincerely interested in exploring this debated issue. Many of my YRR friends, and I say this with love, seem content to go along with their favorite Pastor (Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, etc) and not actually go to the word of God, as least in terms of primacy. This can also, of course, be flipped around if one comes from an egalitarian background (i most certainly don't). So the challenge is not in of itself exclusive to the YRR, but in this post it is directed to them. In love.

Second, I want to offer some resources to challenge my YRR brothers and sisters. The purpose is not necessarily to change your mind (although that is certainly deeply desired). Rather, it is to in essence break down the walls of miscommunication and to promote additional resources one is not likely to get from the footnotes of the latest Gospel Coalition blog post. 

Dr. Roger Nicole was a founding member of the major egalitarian organization, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). He also taught at evangelical seminaries such as Gordon-Conwell and Reformed Theological Seminary. The man was as Reformed and as Evangelical as one could be, even being a staunch biblical inerrantist. He wrote this in his article for Priscilla Papers (the academic journal of CBE, which has published one of my own articles, I am humbled to say!)

It is very instructive to consider what we may know about the women who are mentioned in connection with St. Paul’s ministry. There are eighty-nine individuals listed, some of them by name, in Acts and St. Paul’s thirteen epistles, as his companions. Out of these eighty-nine, twenty are women! In Romans 16:1-15, there is a mention of Phoebe, and salutation to twenty-eight persons, not counting mentions of church, household, brothers, and saints with others. Out of twenty-eight individuals, eight are assuredly women: Prisca, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother (who was also a mother to Paul), Nereus’ sister, and Julia. The name of Junia must be added to these. Furthermore, some women must be assumed to be included in “the church that meets in Prisca and Aquila’s house” (v. 5), the “household of Aristobulus” (v. 10), of Narcissus (v. 11), and “all the saints with Nereus and Olympus” (v. 15). The names of Patroba[s], Herma[s] and Olympa[s], with their accusative form, –an, could possibly be those of women, although being masculine is not ruled out. We know nothing whatsoever about these except that St. Paul greeted them. Apart from those three, there are sixteen masculine names, and, of these, only Urbanus is identified as a coworker of Paul…

… Surely St. Paul would not, in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, condemn on the basis of Genesis 1-3 what he had so freely commended in Romans 16. Some claim that the solution is to posit that 1 Timothy is not authentically written by Paul, a desperate expedient that is wholly unacceptable to evangelicals and that would raise serious questions about Timothy’s place in the canon and even as to its inspiration…

Inasmuch as the view outlined here has not achieved an almost universal recognition among evangelicals, as the inappropriateness of slavery has achieved since the nineteenth century, it is paramount that all evangelicals should strive to provide, particularly in the church, opportunities for our sisters to exercise the gifts of the Spirit that they have received, even where it is not thought permissible by Scripture for them to exercise the office of pastor or teacher. Thus, the church would not lose the benefits that God’s gifts were intended to provide, nor would our sisters be compelled to hide their light under a bowl (Matt. 5:15).

 For Dr. Nicole's article, see here. Lest one deny Dr. Nicole's credentials, he wrote a seminal article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25.4 (1982) on John Calvin and Inerrancy. You do not get more Reformed or Evangelical than that! He also contributed a chapter in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (2005), one of the standard egalitarian academic textbooks,  called "Biblical Hermeneutics: Basic Principles and Questions of Gender." A very worthwhile essay from a master theologian, who was known to be both humble and irenic. He also wrote, "Biblical Authority & Feminist Aspirations," in Women, Authority & the Bible (IVP, 1986), 42-50.

James K.A. Smith is a Christian Philosopher who teaches at Calvin College. He has taught at Fuller, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Regent. He writes he embraced egalitarianism because of a "Reformed Hermeneutic" (p.94). In essence, his theology is not dictated by the Fall and the Curse (Gen 3:16), but by redemption in Christ (c.f. Col 1:20). Creation, therefore, trumps the Fall. 

You can find the quote in his Letters to a Young Calvinist p.93-95.

Dr. Jamin Hübner is a Reformed New Testament scholar and systematic theologian who has been on our podcast (episode here) and we discussed John Piper. It was a good romp and Jamin has written some rather definitive pieces of literature, and he operates from a Reformed perspective. He wrote a short book called A Case for Female Deacons while at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has also written several articles including

  • "Revisiting αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12: What Do the Extant Data Really Show?," Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 5.1 (2015): 41-70. In this article, Jamin shows that the rare Greek verb in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not support a hierarchicalistic interpretation.
  • "Revisiting the Clarity of Scripture in 1 Timothy 2:12," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59.1 (2016): 99-117.
  • "Translating αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," Priscilla Papers 29.2 (2015): 16-26.

Jamin's doctoral thesis was also centered on arguing for a Reformed Egalitarian view, which includes exegesis of the relevant texts and the broader New Testament. He writes in the conclusion of his doctoral thesis

Finally...the power of tradition must never be underestimated. There are many “closet-egalitarians” who believe that women can be elders. But, due to their faculty positions at (for example) Southern Baptist seminaries or pastoral positions at PCA churches, they do not voice what they believe is true. Jobs would be lost and relationships would be broken. It would be easier to fall in line with the local/historical traditions than to earnestly contend for the truth. One can only pray that more brave men and women will see themselves as historical persons that have a story—one that their children and grandchildren will remember and tell, and that their story will speak of a person who did not compromise when it came to proclaiming the gospel in every area of life, including the area of gender equality and the role of church eldership.

Dr. Robert A.J. Gagnon is a New Testament scholar teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a PCUSA school. He has written the definitive traditionalist book on homosexuality called The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Many complementarians are willing to cite the book positively (c.f. God and the Gay Christian: A Response to Matthew Vines - the contributors to the volume are, of course, deeply complementarian), but are strikingly quiet about Gagnon's support for the ordination of women.

Michael F. Bird is a Reformed Anglican New Testament scholar in Ridley College in Australia. He wrote a short book, with a lovely title, called Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry. He writes

Yet I have changed my view on women in ministry, and some of my friends have shaken their head in disappointment, thinking that I have sold out to the cultural tide of feminism by adopting a fashionably left-leaning version of evangelicalism...in my early theological education I took to a patriarchal view very naturally. I was greatly influenced by complementarians such as John Piper, John MacArthur, and Wayne Grudem - men I still admire and respect even if I must now depart company from them on this issue.

N.T. Wright is Reformed. He writes

I have shown where I think the evidence points. I believe we have seriously misread the New Testament passages addressed in this essay. These misreadings are undoubtedly due to a combination of assumptions, traditions, and all kinds of post-biblical and sub-biblical attitudes that have crept in to Christianity. We need to change our understanding of what the Bible says about how men and women are to relate to one another within the church. I do wonder sometimes if those who present radical challenges to Christianity have been all the more eager to sieze upon misreadings of what the Bible says about women as an excuse for claiming that Christianity in general is a wicked thing and we ought to abandon it. Unfortunately, plenty of Christians have given outsiders plenty of chances to draw those sorts of conclusions. But perhaps in our generation we have an opportunity to take a large step back in the right direction. I hope and pray that the work of Christians for Biblical Equality may be used by God in exactly that way.

See his article "The Biblical Basis for Women's Service in the Church," Priscilla Papers 20.4 (2006): 5-10.

Dr. Aida Besançon Spencer is Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is an ordained PCUSA minister. You can see some of her presentations here and here. The first presentation concerns "Women, Silence, and the Church" and the second one is on the differences between Biblical Equality and Radical Feminism. Both are stellar and I commend them to you.

T.F. Torrance, a deeply influential Reformed theologian from Scotland, wrote a stimulating article about Christology and gender, and it is worth your time. He wrote

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We conclude that in spite of long-held ecclesiastical convention, there are no intrinsic theological reasons why women should not be ordained to the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament; rather, there are genuine theological reasons why they may be ordained and consecrated in the service of the gospel. The idea that only a man, or a male, can represent Christ or be an ikon of Christ at the Eucharist, conflicts with basic elements of the doctrines of: the incarnation and the new order of creation; the virgin birth, which sets aside male sovereignty and judges it as sinful; the hypostatic union of divine and human nature in the one Person of Jesus Christ who is of the same uncreated genderless Being as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; the redemptive and healing assumption of complete human nature in Christ; and the atoning sacrifice of Christ which he has offered once for all on our behalf, in our place, in our stead.

You can read his entire essay here.

As one can clearly see, one need not be both Reformed and Complementarian by default. Rather, the presence of Reformed Egalitarians ought to be a primer for the YRR movement to reconsider the cultural link between Reformed theology and patriarchy, and exhibit the spirit of the Reformation.

Beer!

Sorry.

Reformed and always Reforming.

NQ